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Rent Board Member Resigns Shortly After Another is Sworn In

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By Jorge Casuso

July 15, 2022 -- Rent Board Commissioner Naomi Sultan unexpectedly announced her resignation on Thursday, less than four months before she was slated to run for re-election.

Sultan's announcement came hours after the Board unanimously appointed Erika Lesley, a leader of the Santa Monica Black Agenda, to fill the post vacated by Nicole Phillis two months ago.

The Board is expected to fill the seat vacated by Sultan, who like Phillis is moving out of Santa Monica, at its meeting in September.

Both newly appointed members will have to run in the November 8 election for three vacant seats on the five-member board.

Rent Board Chair Steve Duron, whose term expires at the end of the year, has served the maximum two four-year terms and cannot seek reelection.

Sultan said she is moving out of Santa Monica on August 1 and will need to resign by July 31. The Board will accept her resignation at its meeting August 11 and accept applications to fill the seat.

"I feel that the Board is in good hands and will continue to be in good hands," Sultan said.

Sultan's departure came less than three hours after the Board unanimously voted to appoint Lesley, who is also a member of the Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM) Board, to replace Phillis.

Lesley was one of five applicants seeking the post and the only one nominated to fill the seat after each gave a brief speech.

There has been "no other time when Rent Control is more important than now," Lesley said, adding that that it was important to "add some diversity to the Board."

Lesley said she had become "obsessed" with helping her neighbors during the COVID pandemic, helping them apply for rent subsidies and obtain food.

Lesley is a staunch supporter of lowering the maximum allowable annual rent increase the Board was legally bound to approve last month from 6 percent -- the biggest hike in four decades -- to 3 percent.

he told the Board she has been studying the Rent Control Charter, which she believes needs to be amended to give more "emergency powers to the Board before we end up with more homeless on the streets."

A Charter amendment the Council is expected to place on the November 8 ballot later this month would give the Board the authority to suspend otherwise-allowed annual general adjustments during a declared emergency.

While the two new appointees will serve only a few months before they must be elected by the voters, they will be identified on the ballot as Rent Board Commissioners, giving them a leg up in the race.

And both are expected to receive the endorsement of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR), which has only lost one seat in the Board's 43 year history when Robert Kronovet, a conservative Realtor, scored a shocking victory in 2008.

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